Sunday, June 12, 2011

Week Summary (Jun 12): Mt. Tam and Stinson Beach - Low Elevation Heights

Chocolate Factory OB: 6.1 mi (+515 ft); 9:06 pace (PR 9:06)
Emma Quarry OB: 5.5 mi (+949 ft); 8:31 pace (PR 8:31)
Stinson to Steep Ravine OB: 6.6 mi (+1,221 ft); 11:15 pace
Lost in the Tamalpais Woods: 14.1 mi (+3,324 ft); 11:51 pace
Stinson Beach: 5.7 mi (+32 ft); 10:05 pace

Weekly Totals: 38.0 mi (+6,041 ft); 6:52:19 on trail

Seems the weather has finally changed for the better; long warm days are upon us. The warm trails brought out some fast paces even though I have yet to feel I'm really pushing on the mid-week distances, still letting the miles roll by and the foundation build, little by little.  I've maintained my targets each day (now in RFP Week 2) and have let the natural tempo of the run determine the pace without breaking steadiness.  Still, I returned from my standard Tuesday and Wednesday trails with two Personal Records (PRs) for paces at those distances.  Felt good to be shirtless on the trail and let the sweat works its magic. This week I signed up for the Burton Creek Trail Run - Half Marathon at Lake Tahoe held on Father's Day, June 19th. My plan is not be concerned with racing, but to be focused on getting experience in group running and following a course. It fits within my training schedule though I have to swap Saturday and Sunday and I'll need to add a few miles onto the end of the event. I'm not "tapering" my efforts to get ready for this event because it is only part of the bigger picture, that is, getting to the big mileage events later in the year.

Every couple years our owner's group escapes for a planning retreat at Stinson Beach, California. We rent a house and lock the doors for a couple days to consider the future goals and needs of our operation, our staff, and our science. When breaks arrive the attraction of the beach and the hills of Mt. Tamalpais is hard to ignore. Given my increased attention to trail running, I was aware that the trails of Mount Tam are some of the best in California. It's the locale of the Miwok 100k and having read some of the past race reports and searched a variety of maps and guides, I knew I was in for some fun, among other things.

I flew to Oakland on Thursday and made my way to Stinson. After our day's work I took a quick break for 6 miles on the Dipsea Trail and up Steep Ravine. The Dipsea Race from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach is the oldest organized race in California. The race is Sunday so I followed the blue-and-white flags backward along the lower section of the route. I thought carefully about course markings and following the trails, getting ready for next week, even though I was heading against the flow. It was nice practice as I climbed out of Stinson Beach - everything is up-hill when you start at sea-level. I found well-made steps leading from Highway 1. Thursdays typically include a little hill climbing but I usually don't hear the ocean breaking behind me.  The stairway wound steeply through shaded creeks and then ejected me onto an exposed headland of deep-green shrubs and tall grasses. The tread of the trail was perfect. I chose a brief detour that took me out stunning and secluded overlook between two hills.  The golden grass-covered hills framed a large, perfectly round oak tree.  A small board hanging from a rope tied to its lower branches swayed gently while two large deer, their young antlers strung with velvet, stared at it. I startled their focus on the swing, were they really thinking of going for a ride? Maybe they had just finished and were considering another go. Whatever it was, I spoiled it. One bolted for the cover of the chaparral, the other stepped away and chewed at a large bush. he knew I was on the clock.

Returning to Dipsea, I turned toward Steep Ravine calculating the distance I needed to reach my 6-mile goal and, like the deer, wondering how much fun I should have climbing the ravine; I was aware of the rock steps and even a ladder up ahead. I decided I'd keep a lower pace and climb steady to the ladder and turn back, it would be half way up Steep Ravine trail. At the bottom of the ravine I entered the darkness of a Redwood canopy and wet forest floor. The trail was moist and slippery, but my steps were good as I ducked under fallen trees and skirted cliffs above the small but turbulent water falls. One of the beauties of the Mount Tam headlands is the succession of ecosystems that abruptly change with elevation and exposure. I had been happy with the sweat of the desert earlier in the week, now I was drenched as my body outpaced the meager evaporation. The trail was narrow and technical, slippery stones and entangled roots, but damn it was fun. Different than anything I have yet experienced while running, though at times I thought of the dark and damp of the Congo Basin as I ducked through wet leaves and braced myself against the moss and ferns of the canyon wall. I made it to the worn ladder, climbed to the top and turned to negotiate the descent. I ejected from the bottom of the ravine, climbed a low hill and entered the lower reach of Dipsea.  The sun was setting out in the Pacific and only a hint of a marine layer blurred the view. Nice.

Meetings concluded by the weekend and Des arrived to share a couple days - I had an adventure planned. I wanted 14 miles on Saturday and reviewing the maps and Google Earth I had a perfect route from Stinson Beach up to the Coastal Trail along which I'd make my way to Pantoll Campground, descend Steep Ravine and climb back up Dipsea Trail before dropping to the National Monument at Muir Woods. The morning was  sunny with only small tufts of fog along a few tree-topped canyons. I loaded up with two waters, a couple GU gels, and some Clif Bloks (electrolyte chews). I knew I'd sweat plenty more than I was used to and would be adding significant elevation gains to one of my longer runs so I wanted to be ready. Des agreed to meet me at Pantoll to check on my water and general health in this different environment.  I thought I'd be there in about an hour and a half after 7 miles or so on the trail.

I climbed out of Stinson thinking I'd parallel Highway 1 to the north to find the McKennan Gulch Trail.  I found well-made state park signs quickly, though none for McKennan. I climbed up and then dropped into a canyon on a grassy fire road, thistles played sharply at my knees but I'd heard that about these savanna-like trails. I was soon back down at Highway 1 knowing I'd gone too far north and simply passing the one "trail not maintained" sign. I remembered the Willow Fire Road from the map, and knew it went to ridgeline and would eventually intersect the Coastal Trail so I re-traced my steps. At a water tank my trail ended. Turning back I found my mistake and could continue to re-trace my brief earlier route through the thistles. I passed some mountain bikers gamely climbing what I had earlier descended. That's a tough go. Back on the well-maintained road I was soon at a second water tank dead-end. I swear I had seen switchbacks above, but I couldn't get a glimpse from the tank. Another grassy road with an overgrown single-track in its grade might be it. This one had hints of epic - shady, humid alcoves with tree falls and steep grassy cliffs cut by the old road. I passed back-and-forth between the two environments but with each side-canyon the road degraded to non-existent. Finally, I came to a cliff and waterfall only to notice a blue-and-white rope (Dipsea colors, but no way!) hanging from water-pipes strung along the cliff. The pipes fed water to the tanks far below. Footholds were large but the damp made them interesting and I traversed with the rope to the falls (dire pun indeed).  Here, I noticed another rope disappearing upstream into the brush beside the cool rushing water. A guideline through the destroyed road, it led up the falls, nice and cool, to nowhere. A dead-end. Searching for clues and struggling to recall the map, I finally turned back along the ropes and through shade and sun, all the way back to Stinson. Now was about the time I should have been arriving at Pantoll. (I now recall a sign to "Willow Camp" marking a small single-track, this leads to the not-so-mysterious switchbacks to the Coastal Trail).

I decided to retrace Thursdays trail from Dipsea to Steep Ravine, this time continuing up the ladder to Pantoll. Still 3 miles to our meet-up point.  But I felt great and I didn't rush my pace up the climb. The trails are crowded on the weekends and now I joined the hikers and sight-seers as I left the abandoned fire roads and joined the well-groomed routes of the state park. A few passers-by encouraged my progress, "You're making it look easy!" "How many miles?!"  8.4 at that point. 

I showed at Pantoll about 40 minutes late, but Des had hung around and I easily found the uber-Yellow Yota in the crowded parking lot. I dumped my shirt and got some more water and left. I wouldn't be descending Steep Ravine as planned because I was already at 10 miles. I would cut through the Old Mine Trail to hit Dipsea and descend to Muir Woods. The downhill was pleasant with great views of the Golden Gate and a nice trail.  I was back on the marked route of tomorrow's Dipsea Race. Descents can be as unforgiving as ascents and this hurt a little bit, but I arrived at the parking maze of Muir Woods easily and soon ran into Des walking up the road outside the monument entrance. She turned with me and we ran to the car together, crossing through the half-marathon distance on the way. I had to detour up some side roads to get the 14 but was soon at the Yota for lunch. Not too worse for wear, but ready to eat and recount the adventure. Damn this is fun.

We walked up to the monument and toured the Cathedral Grove, cooling down over the 2 miles of boardwalk and parking lots. Dropped back to Stinson Beach for beer and a mixture of ice and the hot-tub. A boy could get used to this.

Sunday follow-ups are going to be a challenge, and I really can't wait (well, slightly) for the B2Bs (back-to-back long runs, Saturday and Sunday) to see how I fair. Though I didn't feel any aches or pains from the Mount Tam adventure yesterday, it was hard to get moving efficiently when I hit the road at sunrise. Well, not as early as sunrise, but it takes some time for the sun to clear Mount Tam and today was fogged in anyway. I took it easy by running a flat loop along Stinson Beach, from the estuary on the north to the rocky cliffs on its southern end. Each new mile was better paced and steadier than the last; that's a good feeling, something I can learn from these short outings following bigger days.

Drove home after one last dip in the hot-tub. The compression leggings are a real benefit on the long drive home. Looking to the new week and my first event.  While I was adventuring around the hills of the oldest race in California, Dad and Mom were running the oldest race in Colorado at the Frisco 10K.  Good times at altitude, getting to the 10K finish in just over an hour. Hope they are feeling good.  I expect Darren was working his way toward the Burton marathon next week where we'll run together for a minute or two.

Good week everyone. Keep going.          

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